SebastianKErben

SebastianKErben

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Posts by SebastianKErben

Super Mario Odyssey – Review

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2017 has been a great year for videogames and one of the indicators is the release of both a new 3D Zelda game as well as a 3D Mario game. It’s also remarkable that Nintendo didn’t announce Odyssey way in advance as they have done with Zelda. The public only learned about the new 3D Mario game at the beginning of this year and the prospect of getting a proper sequel to Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine has driven expectations through the roof. But how good is Super Mario Odyssey and does it have the qualities needed to be another beloved installment in the series? Let’s find out!

 

 

The classic story of Mario saving princess Peach has been used so often now that it became a cliché played upon by a myriad of pop culture referencing works like cartoons and songs. Odyssey is fully aware of this which becomes apparent on quite a few occasions during the main game, but it seems to be indecisive on how to act on it. On one hand it is still just used as an entry point and mild motivation for the character of Mario, on the other hand stakes are seemingly higher than ever with Bowser this time not only kidnapping Peach but also trying to force her into marriage which serves as an antogonistic motif to wreak havoc over multiple kingdoms. It becomes obvious that Nintendo has somehow given up on using story in a Mario platforming game for anything more than an alibi to introduce new worlds and mechanics. Once again, if you are expecting some lore based world building (which for example Breath of the Wild did pretty well) or some serious storytelling you won’t find it here. It’s something that – at this point of the franchise – shouldn’t be expected but it wouldn’t hurt an iconic veteran protagonist like Mario to give him an additional dimension; especially since he is travelling across the world and meets many new faces that – weirdly – are able to be much more interesting characters than Mario himself through their actions and motivations.

 

 

The game itself is broken down into multiple kingdoms, larger areas which led some people to denote Odyssey as an open world 3d platformer. This is not the case. The areas rather act like a mixture of large levels and hub worlds into smaller levels. But what do you do in this game? You need to repair and power up “The Odyssey”, an airship that Mario and his new friend Cappy use to chase after Bowser in his renowned flying fortress aircraft. Powering up the Odyssey works by feeding it “Power Moons” which can be found all over the world. Each kingdom requires you to get a certain amount of those moons in order to proceed but actually a lot more can be found. This serves two purposes:

  1. there are enough “easy” moons so every player will be able to get at least through the main part of the game without frustration; stuck on a certain moon? Just go ahead and find yourself another one
  2. after the main part of the game is over, additional moons will unlock a couple of new areas and outfits so the challenge is there for players not satisfied after they finished the story

Interestingly moons can also be purchased with coins in case you want to unlock the additional areas and outfits but are stuck finding or reaching them. The game really does a great job providing you options so you’re not at the mercy of the lvel designers and that’s a good thing because a lot of them moons especially in the end game can be devilish and sometimes outright frustrating.

 

 

The platforming gameplay is of course the heart and soul of Odyssey and everything from the backflip to the head dive is there. Nintendo also did a great job bypassing a lot of the problems commonly found in 3D platformers by changing the distance between Mario and the camera according to the surroundings. Still, it can be hard sometimes to land on certain platforms or nail a jumping passage without manually moving the camera to a better position which can be problematic when you don’t have enough time to do. So there is still room for improvement in the future but it tells a lot about the genre if Nintendo has been the only developer for quite some time now to try and improve it.

But as usual with Nintendo games, Odyssey does feature a new mechanic. Mario is this time joined by Cappy, a hat ghost that he can throw on objects and enemies. Sometimes, cappy will just get an object (like coins) or defeat an enemy but often the player can take control over an enemy (or object, I’ve been a rock and a tree in this game more than once) and this is where Super Mario Odyssey goes from being a first class 3D platforming game to a showcase of masterclass gameplay design. Not only do the different abilities of the enemies lead to new puzzles never seen before in a Mario game, some of them are actually so superb that a complete smaller budget title could be made out of them. It really shows how the designers were allowed to run wild with ideas and it’s almost saddening to think that Odyssey could remain the only 3D Mario title in the series to feature this mechanic. Another neat gameplay mechanic to shake up the standard 3D platforming gameplay are the 2D sections where Mario becomes an 8Bit representation of himself painted onto a wall with small 2D level layouts to proceed through. They are almost always tailord towards the theme of the respective kingdom you will find them in and feature different mechanics. The whole game is just filled with so much creativity in gameplay design that keeping it all together with nothing more than a boilerplate story and the task of collecting one type of item is remarkable.

 

 

Visually the game is a mixed bag. Technically it aims at a 60 FpS framerate which really supports the platforming gameplay and has been one of the key areas that Nintendo seems to be pushing with their own releases (save for Breath of the Wild). The general art direction for the different kingdoms is also something I’d like to praise. From the very monochromatic hat land to the multicoloured food kingdom there is a lot of variety. Some could even argue there is so much variety that the game lacks some overarching art direction. Where the game is sometimes lacking is in detail. This may have something to do with the fact that the Switch doesn’t have a lot of power left for pushing higher detailed models at 60 FpS, it could also be a general design direction to emphasize the puzzle areas. Either way, the game can look bland at times. The music though is best in class with memorable pieces that you won’t get tired of listening to.

All in all the game is just a bag full of joy, a diamond of design that shines bright even if it very rarely can seem a little bit rough on some of its edges. The main part of the game is easy enough for unskilled players to complete while certainly offering some challenges for players who are not satisfied with the easy go-to solutions. The post-game content is noticeably harder though, giving you the option to perfect your skills if you want to put in the time.

 

 

Conclusion: 4.8 (on a -5 to 5 scale). Let me start this conclusion by telling you that I had a lot of moments where I thought “now that’s a 5/5 game if I ever have seen one”. But over time I did encounter some situations where I just wasn’t satisfied fully with the game or even decided to put it down for half an hour. Now Breath of the Wild and Persona 5 aren’t perfect games either (both received a rating of 5 from me) but as I mentioned in one of the reviews: there will never be something like a perfect game. I try to evaluate the qualities of a game based on what I think the game wants to be and offer. To receive a rating of 5, the game can have weaknesses but if the game masterfully does what it wants to do, little issues will not affect the rating of the game at all. This is not quite true for Mario Odyssey I think. The platforming could be just a little bit better and the presentation sometimes takes away from the absolutely brilliant game design. I might be unfair on this but I always think that 3D Mario games could be that little bit better. Still, this game is outstanding! It’s a must buy if you own a Switch and have even the slightest interest in the genre and it’s filled with so much fun and creativity. It can be enjoyed by players of all skill levels and is indeed a worthy entry for the core 3D Mario series. Well done, Nintendo! The year 2017 has been indeed a great year for videogames, and Super Mario Odyssey seems like the cherry on top of the icecream.

PC Gaming Part 2 – Frames & time

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Heyho lovely Artsygamer crowd!

As promised in part 1 of my article series about PC gaming, I want to talk about some of the common tech terms, how gaming can be influenced by them and how the PC platform is great for people who care about it.

 

Framerate

When talking about framerate, most of the time it’s a discussion about 30 frames per second and 60 frames per second and which of those two is “enough”. The problem is that through false analogies and bad knowledge some people even thing the human eye is not even capable of perceiving more than 30 frames per second. But let’s take a step back first and see why “Frames per Second” actually tells you less than what you would expect, what people actually mean when talking about frames per second even without being aware of it and what the better metric is.

So, framerate basically is the rate with which your system displays its content on its output. In the case of a game console, this could be what is happening in a game getting displayed on your TV. The framerate is a time dependent metric and seconds are the only time metric that make sense to use so we are talking about frames per second. The reason why this metric is a pretty bad one is because it tells you nothing about the distribution of the frames. If a game has 59 frames rendered in 0.01 seconds each but the next frame takes 0.41s the game clearly runs with 60 frames per seconds but it will be unplayable due to one frame being displayed for over 1/3 of a second every second.

What people automatically asume when talking about frames per second is that those frames are all distributed equally over one second which is not always the case. People have gotten used to using frames per second because framerate as a metric is much older than games. I leave it up to you to read some stuff about movies and filmmaking and frames per second but the conclusion is: framerate is a metric that is actually only sufficient to express a game’s performance in the best case scenario. Since the load of a game on a machine varies and depends a lot on how the player behaves in the game, it’s actually rare for a game to deliver frames with constant timings by itself. Thus the better metric to use is the time that the frames happen to be displayed till the next one (which also expresses the time needed to render the next frame): the frametime.

 

Frametime

So when talking about frametime, we’re getting closer to two topics important for the conversation: the refresh rate of your display and your ability to perceive. We’re going to talk about the refresh rate first because it’s pretty easy: most displays update with 60Hz (this means Hertz and is used in Physics to express frequency). Basically, 1 Hertz is 1 unit per second. So 60 Hertz means 60 units per second. In the case of a 60 Hertz display it means the display will update the displayed image 60 times per second. There are also displays out there which can handle higher frequencies, the more common ones are 144Hz displays.

But can you actually perceive the difference between 30 and 60 frames per second (or, to stay within our newly discovered metric of frametime: 0.0333s per frame and 0.01666s per frame)? Well, yes and no. We need to be more precise here and also shouldn’t generalize too much because there will always be exceptions. If we’re talking about changes in brightness, most humans can’t perceive changes faster than 0.1s per change. This is used in modern lighting where you have very bright light emitted in a high frequency rather than less bright light being emitted constantly all the time. The human eye can’t tell the difference most of the time but it saves power. If we’re talking about movement however, the human eye is incredibly capable. The problem here is that the human brain is equally great in filling in missing information so it’s hard to tell where the limit is but 0.002s should be perceivable for most human beings (that’s 2 milliseconds!).

So if human beings are capable of perceiving 60 frames per second with  0.016666s display time per frame and displays are capable of displaying 60 frames per second (not just capable actually, they do it wheter you want it or not), why do games (at least on consoles) so often focus on hitting a frame time target of 0.03333s resulting in 30 frames per second? Well, the answer here is a mixture of hardware capability and game design focus. Games today often focus on larger areas or “open worlds” and the problem here is that while GPU power in consoles is enough to support those quite easily actually, it’s the CPU power holding those games back and limiting them to 30 frames per second. Of course all objects in the scene are rendered by the GPU, but some instance needs to tell the GPU which objects to render. This instance is the CPU and the whole process of telling the GPU to render something is named a “Draw Call”, because the CPU calls out to the GPU to draw something on the screen. Doubling the framerate then means to at least double the amount of draw calls because that’s required for the GPU to act. And we haven’t even talk about physic calculations, NPC behaviour etc. yet. Many of those calculations are often on the CPU as well. But how does a longer frametime affect your enjoyment of the game?

 

Latency

Latency is basically the amount of time it takes between a cause A and it’s corresponding effect B. When talking about latency in our context I want to emphasise on 2 things: first, the latency between your action as a player and the outcome of this action being presented on the screen. This depends on multiple factors. The first thing is the signal processing of your input device. This is usually quite fast (less than 2 Milliseconds). The next thing is the refresh rate of the code part of the game that processes the input. This of course varies from game to game, but it shouldn’t be complex enough to take up a noticeable amount of processing time. After processing the input, all the code that generates and renders the picture is running. The whole runtime of the code makes up our frametime. After that, the rendered image needs to be displayed by the display. And here another – mostly unknown – topic strikes: enhancement features of TVs. See, most TVs automatically take the images they receive and try to enhance them by applying certain filters and algorithms. This takes up time and although the system is already finished putting out the frame, you will not get to see it. Good TVs offer the option to enable a specific gaming mode in which the enhancements will be disabled. This changes the display lag from otherwise up to 300 Milliseconds (0.3s) to 20 Milliseconds (0.02s). PC monitors in general are between 1 and 8 Milliseconds (0.001s and 0.008s). So in a gaming setup with TV, the latency not caused by code (which we can call constant latency) is roughly 22 Milliseconds (0.022s). If our game now runs at 30 frames per second with a constant frame time of 0.033s, this means we end up at a total latency of 0.055s. If the game runs at 60 frames per second with a constant frame time of 0.016s, we end up at 0.038s. This means lower frametimes will make the game react more timely to your actions.

The second thing is your ability to react to stuff happening in the game which also depends on the latency. If we take our figures, a game running with frame times of 0.016s will enable you to react 30% faster to changes in the game. This increases further if your display can handle lower frametimes, with a 144Hz display that can be served with a 0.0069s frametime resulting in a total lag of 29 Milliseconds (48% faster than our 30 frames per second case). Of course this raises the question if you need this fast reaction times which in turn depends on the game and its mechanics. A fast paced competitive shooter would be a scenario which profits from very low frametimes while a tactical turn based RPG doesn’t need low frametimes to ensure perfect playability.

 

Torn frames

So far we focused on the 0.033s and 0.016s frametime examples, but why is that? I mentioned earlier that frametimes are usually variable and wouldn’t it make sense to just let the game run as fast as it can, ending up with more than 30 frames per second in most cases? Well, let’s enter the realm of image quality.

I mentioned that TVs typically update with 60Hz which means it will pull an image from the system every 0.016s. If our game runs with 0.033s frame timing this means the display will pull the same image twice from the system before the next one. But if our game now runs faster, say with a frame time of 0.02s it means the image pulled from the display will not be fully updated. Instead, a fraction of the old image will be displayed with the other fraction being the new image. The frame is torn. The result is a flickering line that will often appear to travel across the screen. This means image quality will only be intact if the frame times stay at a multiple of the display refresh rate (including multiples of 0.5, 0.25, etc). That’s why frame times of 0.33s are used. The technique to make sure the game doesn’t run faster is called V Sync (which stands for vertical synchronisation; vertical because updating the display happens vertically). V Sync essentially will make the game wait to deliver the image so that the frame will not be pulled incompletely from the display.

 

The PC

It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that the PC has an advantage because of the potential increase in power and the resulting performance delivering shorter frame times. This is just one of the factors in favor of the PC though. The main advantage is the flexibility. The players can tweak every game to their liking, deciding what is more important to them for each game. On a console, this decision is take away from you because developers created an experience targeted specifically towards the hardware at hand. On the PC, you could even decide approve torn frames for better frame timing if your PC can’t quite handle the game at the visual settings you want.

 

End of part 2

So that’s it. I’ll admit the article was more about explaining some technical details than going into PC gaming really. Sorry ;) But if you’ve made it this far, congratulations! I hope you’ve learned a thing or two that enables you to understand better why your games behave the way they do. Maybe you even jumped up from your seat to see if your TV has a gaming mode. That’s great! If you have any more questions or want a certain topic to be covered, I am in the process of thinking about part 3 of the series and what it would be about so your input would help me a lot.

 

Until next time and game on!

PC Gaming Part 1 – Pro & con

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Hey lovely Artsygamer crowd!

Today I am starting an article series that I have been thinking about for a while now. Actually, the idea for this was born last year when I decided not to get an XBox One X but instead invest my money in a high end graphics card. Things changed a bit in March when the ongoing problems with Nier: Automata for the PC changed my mind in the other direction again but right now I am enjoying my PC again.

DISCLAIMER: I will not tell you “Play on a PC!” or “Play on a console!”. This series should be about how PC gaming is today, what the benefits are and how you can make an informed decision about whether or not this could be something you want to invest time and money in. And although the title of this first part is “Pro & con”, I will not run a list of pros and cons. Many differences between consoles and PCs can have pros and cons to both platforms, often depending on your point of view.

The next parts will be about more in depth details and background knowledge and maybe I will also try to give you some general advice what you need to keep in mind when compiling your own conceptual PC.

 

Individualism

Consoles follow a “one size fits all” approach (or at least “two sizes fit all” nowadays) where PCs are all over the place in terms of quality, performance and price. If you build your own PC, the machine you will come up with is a very deeply customized piece of hardware. What does this mean? Games for consoles are built to run on one or two hardware configurations and QA can do deeper tests ensuring the games will run as intended. On PCs, the range of possible hardware configurations is to large so QA will most likely only test the more common setups. If you’re with a more exotic configuration the games you buy might not behave as planned or you could encounter problems QA didn’t come across when testing. This is also true for different driver versions. AMD and NVidia both update their drivers regularly to bosst performance in the latest titles. However, sometimes this can unexpectedly lead to problems with other titles. That was what made Nier: Automata unplayable for me: I am running an RX 480 and some time before the game was released, AMD completely overhauled their drivers. The new drivers were more stable, performed much better in most games… and were not part of Nier: Automata’s QA testing. This resulted in a render crash whenever a certain amount of alpha blending would occur in the game so it was basically impossible to finish even the tutorial. The problem has been fixed after 3 months but it was very frustrating because the only way to get the game playable again was to downgrade the drivers, sacrificing performance in every other game. Still, such problems are the exceptions these days and all those custom options lead to systems that can be tailored towards individual needs and budgets.

 

Performance

I think it’s common knowledge that a high end PC will trash any console available on the market. But high end PCs are expensive and the real question is if you can also get into and enjoy PC gaming without spending $1000 and more. After all, throwing money at a “problem” is not a good solution most of the time (that being said I am a fan of buying quality parts and quality hardware even if it does cost you a bit more). I recently came across the YouTube channel of JERMgaming who started an interesting experiment over two years ago: building a sub $400 PC and see how well it will compare against consoles in the years to follow. The “Potato Masher” (as he calls the PC) series has since become very popular on YouTube and in its third year it’s still going strong:

The series also shows that from a technical standpoint, console versions of games (at least standard XBox One and PS4) are on the lower end of audiovisual fidelity even if they continue to impress us with games like Assassins Creed: Origins. The series also shows one benefit of the “individualism” I was talking about before: a balanced system. If we take a closer look at the past generation and the current generation it becomes obvious that the machines were constructed with some very precise goals in mind and thus weren’t balanced out very well: the XBox 360 and PS3 wanted to enable clever AI and more complex physics while targeting HD displays. This led to comparatively weak GPUs while the CPUs really pushed for parallelism and number crunching. Some may remember that the PC version of GTA 4 ran poorly on Dual Core systems because the engine was optimized for many cores. XBox One and PS4 had more visual fidelity in mind which led to systems with pretty ok GPU power but a lack in CPU power. This is also the reason why the Potato Masher is able to provide 60 FPS in many games where the consoles can only hold 30 FPS: it’s due to the lack in CPU power in an imbalanced system. On a side note, both the XBox 360 and XBox One are a bit better balanced than their SONY counterparts (in theory; the XBox One’s memory architecture is crippled though, something they improved with the XBox One X).

 

Cost

Now when it comes to cost, consoles are very beginner friendly. You go to the store or order them online and you’re set. And while you could do the same with a PC, the moment we enter the realm of custom built machines and OS setup PCs can get a lot more complicated than consoles very fast and this includes the cost because there are no set in stone prices for hardware parts and there are so many that the process of cost management vs. availablility vs. system configuration can get very tiresome. Add the cost for an Operating System and peripherals into the mix and it becomes clear why consoles are so popular.

However, there are long term benefits to the PC that shouldn’t go unmentioned. First of all we’re going to talk about the online fees on consoles. PS Plus and XBox Live Gold are between $50-60 per year. If we’re looking at a 5 year console lifecycle, then that’s the cost of a mid range PC graphics card. The second factor is the price of the games themselves: PC gaming means going digital. There is no way around Steam, Good old Games, Origin and Battle.Net. This prevents selling or gifting used games as well as lending your games to friends. However, games are a lot cheaper to begin with. Using sites like isthereanydeal.com you can quickly find the lowest price for a game you want and where to buy it (isthereanydeal only searches across official resellers which is why I mention it here; there are other sites which offer the games at lower prices but I would stay away from them) and there are other large official resellers like greenmangaming which regularly offer games at good prices way ahead of their release.

Prices are also going down faster for PC versions of games and the seasonal Steam sales are infamous for their discounts. To be fair though, digital sales on consoles have gotten better over the past years and often offer good discounts on older games.

 

Adaptability

Charles Darwin formulated survival of the fittest and what is often misinterpreted as survival of the strongest actually mean survival of the most adaptable. And while consoles are more adaptable than ever before with games sometimes even offering “performance modes” and “quality modes” to give users some choice to adapt the experience it’s in the PC’s very DNA to not only encourage users but even force them to adapt settings and software to their liking. To give you an example: I am running a Radeon RX 480 from MSI which has a cooler that is very decent until it reaches a certain amount of RPMs. I didn’t want to limit the RPMs (for obvious reasons, I don’t want my PC to get too hot and die) but I am also someone who can’t stand fan noise. It’s already driving me crazy with the PS4 Pro and I am glad that the XBox One X seems to be as quiet as the regular XBox One. So what I did on the the PC was to adapt the clock rates at which my GPU performs and now my graphics card runs at 95% of its base performance level but only needs 85% of the power it originally needed resulting in a cheaper, cooler and quieter gaming machine that still runs my games at roughly the same performance level.

 

Freedom

So this one is a larger topic for this part of  the series and I will start it with two topics that you will probably not expect at this point. The first one of these is regional restriction. Back in the old days, consoles were region locked and because of the lack of internet and customs freedom (which is going away again in terms of the UK market :-() it was very hard buying and playing games from a different region on your console. Of course the topic of procurement wasn’t any different for the PC but once you had the game, running it was no problem. My family used to spent holidays in Ireland, Denmark or England and that was always what I saved a chunk of money up for in order to get games like Return to Castle Wolfenstein. But with the advent of internet, Steam and the latest consoles, this situation has changed completely. Now you can order uncut versions of games for PS4, XBox One and Nintendo Switch easily from the internet and they will run just fine on your console. On the PC, Steam will look at your region based on IP and won’t even allow to unlock certain games. Want to play the uncut versions of Wolfenstein II or Call of Duty WWII? What a pity, you will have to use a VPN to unlock them (even if you got the Steam key so you can’t even buy a retail copy of the games!) and then either use a VPN every time you play those games or use Steam in offline mode to prevent it from looking up you region. That’s not true for all games that are not available in your region though but still: it’s annoying.

The second topic is the operating system. Although some games on Steam are available on Linux and even more are also available on OSX, PC gaming pretty much equals Microsoft Windows (and Windows 10 as the current main OS product of the company). I don’t want to go into detail how Windows 10 has been the best OS experience I ever had with any OS or that you can (and should) take a good look at all the connected features of the OS and disable them if you don’t want them. I understand that many users don’t like Microsoft. I don’t share their views, but I understand (having grown up in the 90s). There is pretty much no way around Windows 10 though unless you want to do without DirectX 12 and the game mode enhancements of Windows 10. There are a lot more features in Windows 10 for gaming if you have a Microsoft/XBox account like complete XBox Live integration with the ability to voice chat and interact with your friends (at no cost on the PC), cloud saving, XBox Live Play Anywhere (which means games in that program that you buy digitally you will get the XBox One and Windows 10 version for the price of one game), etc.

On all other fronts though, there is no plattform that offers more freedom than the PC. Use the input devices of your choice (if the game supports it), regardless if mouse and keyboard, XBox 360 gamepad, XBox One gamepad, DualShock 4 or some other gamepad from a manufacturer like Logitech. Configure the hardware and software as you want, connect to your friends how you want and even chose from different providers for many games. In contrary to consoles PCs are not meant to be just for consumption of media, they are machines of creations – a bicycle for the mind like Steve Jobs once said.

 

Games

How could I end this article without going into the topic of games themselves. Now the first thing to consider is that the PC will not get exclusive games from SONY and Nintendo. Likewise, there are games which you will not find on PS4 or Switch. With Microsoft, things are a bit different. For over a year now, Microsoft is pushing the idea of an XBox plattform that includes Windows 10 PCs and this idea involves games coming out on XBox One and PC like Gears of War 4 or Forza 7, often with multiplayer features that are plattform independent so XBox One and PC players can play together which works really well from what I can tell (experience is mostly based on Gears of War 4’s horde mode). Where the PC shines though is games preservation or the ability to go back to old games. This might not be easy or even possible for all games (especially when they were using some fancy graphics API that doesn’t exist anymore or some copy protection) but for most games it is very much possible to just put the disc in your drive and get them running (that is if your machine has a disc drive). There is even a game provider service called Good old Games (by the same company that created the Witcher games) that became big by patching old games and selling them as a highly compatible package for modern systems (they are still doing that but Good old Games is now also offering current game releases). In that regard PC will always have the largest library of games of any plattform because there are no generational shift. I don’t want to forget to mention Microsoft’s backwards compatibility features on the XBox One though. They are always working on improving it and extending the list of compatible XBox and XBox 360 games which is really nice.

 

The End

So that’s it for this part of the series. I hope you gained some insights and know now better if PC gaming is something for you or not. Of course I’d like to see people jumping on board of PC gaming more because it kind of enforces you to get a bit more tech savvy which I think is always a good thing but if not, that’s also fine. In the end enjoying games should be our priority and you can do that with all plattforms. In the next part I want to dive a bit more deeper into the tech side of gaming, explaining why the PC has an edge here over consoles on many levels.

 

Enjoy your games, love & respect!

The Souls Retrospective Part II – The First Flame

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Part two of the EasyAllies’ Souls Retrospective. Enjoy and consider supporting Easy Allies on Patreon if you enjoy their content https://www.patreon.com/EasyAllies

DOOM on Switch – Hands on report and experiment

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Very cool video from DigitalFoundry. I respect them a lot for their comparisons and this one was particularly interesting to me because of the “Switch like PC” they built. The comparison is far from perfect of course but it’s a nice approach. One thing to notice is that on the Switch, shader performance can be increased a lot by using FP16 instead of FP32 for calculations (Half vs Float -> 16bit floats vs 32bit floats) because the shader cores of the Tegra can either process one 32bit shader operation or 2 16bit shader operations at the same time. You lose precision but this precision isn’t even important most of the time (except for something like shadows which you don’t want to look distorted because of lower precision). That’s something especially the NVidia cards on PC can’t do. They would just process one 16bit shader per 32bit core. Current AMD cards are able to make use of that though as well as the PS4 Pro and I guess this is one of the “secrets” of bringing a game like DOOM to the Switch.

Easy Allies – The Souls Retrospective Part 1 “Through the Fog”

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I always loved the retrospective videos of Gametrailers and the Easy Allies continue with them. Finally, after many months of anticipation, the first part of the Souls retrospective is here. Enjoy and consider supporting Easy Allies on Patreon if you enjoy their content :) https://www.patreon.com/EasyAllies

Tokyo Game Show 2017 PlayStation Press Conference Recap

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  • Montage (Monster Hunter World, CoD WW2, GT Sport, FIFA 18, Destiny 2, Rythm Game I Don’t know the Title, Dynasty Warriors 8?, Star Wars Battlefront 2, Yakuza Kiwami 2, some Square Enix Puzzle Game, Knack 2, more games to fast to recognize xD)
  • Sales figures for PS4 and PS4 Pro – continues being successful, new DualShock 4 colors, PS4 GT Sport Limited Edition, PS4 CoD Limited Edition
  • CoD WW2 featuring Japanese voiceacting in Japan, Story trailer looking good, intense atmosphere, symbolism seems censored in Japan as well?
  • Ni No Kuni 2, looking good, Trailer features English voiceacting, game seems to involve larger army based battles as well?, January 2018
  • Earth Defense Force 5, looking and running kinda meh in the trailer xD
  • Red Dead Redemption 2, old trailer, English voiceacting, Japanese subtitles
  • Dynasty Warriors 8, new ways of environmental traversal, kinda good looking visuals, special PS4 edition
  • Minecraft Story Mode Season 2
  • SquareEnix, Omega Force, Team Ninja => Final Fantasy Dissidia TN?
  • Shadow of the Colossus Remake, 2018
  • Dragons Crown
  • Final Fantasy IX Remaster
  • Some dating game? Code: Realize
  • Stella Stage (new Idol Master game)
  • Gundam Battle Operation 2, looks a bit like Titanfall
  • PlayStation VR Section starts
  • Montage
  • Bundle with PSVR and camera
  • Another montage (new games this time?)
  • Ark VR Survival Shooter? Ark Park
  • Gungrave VR
  • A-Train Exp. with uprez PS1 style graphics
  • Zone of the Enders 2 VR
  • Some cat VR game
  • Some game music symphony VR experience I don’t fully understand xD, Japan Studio VR Music Festival
  • News VR
  • PlayStation VR Section ends
  • New game from the Unitl Down creators: Hidden Agenda, Release 2017, up to 6 players can same via Smartphones
  • Animax 24h Anime only TV channel service on PlayStation
  • Some more Japan only services
  • More Earth Defense Force, Earth Defense Force Iron Rain
  • Some game I don’t know the name
  • Detroid
  • More Japan games I don’t recognize
  • Left Alive from Square Enix
  • Monster Hunter World, looking gooooooooood
  • And that’s it, nice sendoff trailer in the style of Make ’em Laugh

My take is: Western IPs seem to become a bit more popular in Japan, PS4 Slim is SONY’s focus with the PS4 Pro only mentioned once in the beginning and all the special editions available as Slim only, no surprises especially no new game from From Software, VR stays niche, Ni No Kuni 2 and Monster Hunter World looking great but are not totally exclusive (Ni No Kuni 2 coming to PC as well, Monster Hunter World to XBox One and PC). Left Alive looks interesting but no information even on the genre, Hidden Agenda is kinda exciting though.

The Nintendo Switch Paradox | How Everyone Got It Wrong

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Interesting video with some good analysis but I want to point out that everyone is not everyone ;-) I remember my predictions being somewhat in line with the current situation :-P

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle – Review

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When UbiSoft‘s first game for the Switch got leaked to some amount, many players were furious. The beloved Nintendo characters of the Mario universe together with UbiSoft‘s silly casual-game figureheads? How would that not be a recipe for total disaster? But E3 came, Mario + Rabbids got announced properly with Miyamoto taking a spot on UbiSoft’s E3 stage and very quickly, sentiments began to change. The game would turn out to be a mix of exploration adventure and turn-based tactics. But did it turn out to be any good?

 

 

The story is a silly but fun narrative about the dimension traveling Rabbids stumbling across some sort of fusion device, crash landing in the Mushroom Kingdom and the device causing trouble everywhere by fusing Rabbids with the flora and fauna of the kingdom. It’s pretty clear from the start that there is no serious overarching narrative; the story is the silly foundation for a game that wants to exploit the artdesign of Super Mario and the Rabbids in all possible ways and it’s really good at that. Speaking of the audiovisual design: lush graphics, a lot of animated background assets and the creative world design all help bringing the game to life but the characters are without any doubt the diamond core of the design. I never liked the Rabbids much but in this game they often made me laugh through their actions and the quality of the animation of those actions; the designers really worked hard to work out the essence of slapstick. The music is also very good, with one particularly outstanding piece of opera interpretation.

 

 

Technically the game runs fine after the first patch. Before that it would noticeably dip below 30 Fps in certain situations but after the patch the game always remained at a solid 30 for me. This is important in a larger context because the game runs on UbiSoft’s Snowdrop engine, the game engine introduced with The Division and also used in the upcoming Starlink: Battle for Atlas (which is coming out for Switch as well), South Park: The Fractured But Whole and the license games for the next Avatar movies. This means together with AnvilNext 2.0 UbiSoft has already 2 graphic engines for Switch and based on the huge success of Mario + Rabbids it stands to hope that we will see more games and ports from UbiSoft coming to Switch.

The gameplay loop consists of two main parts: you will run around the transformed worlds of the Mushroom Kingdom, solving puzzles, finding switches and looting treasures. Your progression through the worlds is linear but the game does a good job of hiding it most of the time by giving you alternative routes to explore and secrets to find. Regularly you will come across areas marked with pirate style flags. Entering those areas will initiate a turn-based battle, the second big part of the gameplay. In general there are 3 types of those battles: beat all enemies, beat a specific enemy (those are the boss- and miniboss-fights) and reach a certain area within the battlegrounds (sometimes with a certain sidekick character which turns the mission into an escort mission). Your party will only ever consist of 3 different characters and one of them has to be Mario. The other two you can choose from a roster of 7 characters but you need to have at least one Rabbid character on the team (so no Mario, Luigi and Peach team). Each character has a different set of abilities and can use a different type of weapon which means you have a lot of freedom to experiment with your team throughout the game, especially because you can at any time freely redistribute the skillpoints of each character. Can’t beat a certain mission? Maybe try out a different team with different skills and weapons. The game’s difficulty is fine most of the time; it should be not to hard to make it through most battles okay-ish but if you’re after that “perfect” rating for each battle, the difficulty will raise significantly. The perfect rating basically depends not only on your success in the mission but also if none of your characters went KO in the battle and if you managed to finish the battle in a certain amount of turns, forcing you to play as efficient as possible.

 

 

The game contains 4 worlds each divided into 8 chapters (except for the last world who has 9 chapters) and those kept me busy between 25 and 30 hours but I will admit that I tried from the very beginning to solve every battle with a “perfect” rating, making me replay some of them 5 to 6 times. If you rush through the game I guess you will still be busy for 20 hours though. Once beaten, every world will open up additional challenge missions and you can also try to find every secret after the game ends and you unlock the last environmental manipulation skill which will keep you busy an additional 5 to 10 hours I guess. And last but not least there is a dedicated set of coop missions that you can play with an online partner. So all in all, the game doesn’t just offer good gameplay and fun adventure, it will also keep you busy for a while especially if you’re a completionist.

However, the game has some flaws that I don’t want to forget. First of all, there is a planning mode at the beginning of each battle which doesn’t really deserve the name. You can view the battlefield and change up your team but you can’t change the character’s starting points or even see their weapon range after moving. And while the difficulty is mostly fine, at the end of the game there is a noticeable spike in difficulty because the game presents you with a set of three consecutive battles and doesn’t save in between, so if you mess up one turn in the third battle this means you will have to replay the first two as well. And the biggest issue is this: there is no confirmation prompt before your character moves. This is bad because it means if you carelessly chose one field too much or too less in your movement turn, the character will move there without the possibility of rewinding or changing but since positioning is crucial in a game like this you really have to be focused at all times during the battles.

 

 

Conclusion: 3 (on a -5 to 5 scale). Despite the lack of support at the end of WiiU‘s lifecycle, UbiSoft has always been one of the most important 3rd party partners for Nintendo, often trying to make the best of the respective Nintendo console’s gimmick. Just think about the sword fighting of Red Steel or the gamepad use in Zombi U. Often those games suffered from a lack in polish, resulting in disappointing sales. But Mario + Rabbids is different in many respects. First off: they took the their time to polish this game and didn’t rush it just to meet the Switch‘s release date. Second: they didn’t try to do something fancy that relies on HD Rumble or motion controls or JoyCon sharing. They focused on a solid idea, perfectly suited for a console that you can take on the go and executed it very well. The result is a game that is neither revolutionary nor relying on some weird hardware feature. It’s just really, really good and fun and the fact that Nintendo was willing to let UbiSoft use their characters to boost sales and really make this a Nintendo exclusive is a very good sign for the Switch‘s future and tells a lot about the new openness of the video game traditionalist from Kyoto. Unless you really don’t like turn-based tactics, this game is worth a buy in my opinion.

Persona 5 – Review

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After 90 hours of Persona 5 I am still not quite finished with the game, but I feel like I am near enough the end to finally deliver my review on this game. The review has been a long time coming now and I am a little bit sour that it took so long; but better late than never, right? So let’s start.

 

 

Back in the old SNES days, JRPGs were some of my favourite genres. After all, Secret of Mana was the game that brought me to game development in general and spawned my interest in programming. You could say my whole “career” started with the words “DARKNESS SWEEPS THE TROUBLED LAND, …”. But later on, I lost interest in most of them. Among the JRPGs I started but never finished were Final Fantasy X, Lost Odyseey, Blue Dragon, Tales of Symphonia, Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XV and even the wonderful Ni No Kuni. But I kept coming back to Persona 5 even after weeks of not playing it due to shortages of free time and the thought of not finishing it never crossed my mind once which is partly due to the fact that the art style of this game fulfills a very important function that most JRPGs lack: it makes the menus and the way the game is to be played easy to remember. That is the first of many strengths of the game and I can’t stress enough how important this is. Regardless how little I remembered about my last steps in the game after a longer period of time, the menu navigation was always an anchor point that I could use to get back into the game and in this regard Persona 5 really changed my perception of UI design. I knew that P5 would be a very stylish game before thanks to all the trailers, but I didn’t expect to learn so much about a topic that before was merely an afterthought I wanted to minimize as much as possible in my own designs.

 

The style of the game also helps disguising the game’s PS3 origin although its technical simplicity becomes obvious if you look close enough. Thankfully this never became a concern and it speaks volumes about P5‘s ability to be regarded as a timeless classic that the overall style negates its technical debility already. The next thing I need to praise in volumes is its soundtrack which is absolutely stunning. The last time I was blown away by a game soundtrack was probably when Bayonetta got released but P5 easily tops it. Sometimes I would just lay the gamepad aside to listen for a very specific song. Overall the audiovisual design fascinated me so much that I’m using a Persona 5 style theme on my smartphone and every alarm sound is a song from the OST. And it’s great that the design is so good because otherwise the fights would probably get tiresome very quickly despite the fighting system being the best shot at turn based battle systems that I have seen so far. Now I know people might disagree on that and would prefer a more time based approach but I love the fact that I can really take my time in battles if I want to without pressure (well, most of the time; there are one or two exceptions to this in the whole

 

 

The overarching narrative of Persona 5 is that of a pupil being sued by someone for essentially stopping an imminent rape. The protagonist gets transferred to a different school for rehabilitation and this is when things slowly start to get weird as the protagonist awakes to the power of his Persona and starts changing the hearts of bad people. The game doesn’t start with that though; it actually starts at the last quarter of the game, the protagonist gets captured and interrogated and the interrogation itself is what the player experiences and plays through up until past and present sync back and the endgame starts. The structure of Persona 5‘s storytelling – at least as far as the main story is concerned – is to get a new “big” target. Those persons’ twisted desires have created palaces in the metaverse that the player needs to infiltrate, steal the treasure of the target and change the target’s heart by doing so. If this sounds complicated, let me break it down for you: you need to play through a dungeon and defeat the dungeons boss. The thing about those dungeons is that they must be completed until a certain deadline. Within this timeframe, you are pretty much free to spent your time as you want to. Don’t want to proceed the palace but instead go learning at the diner on a rainy day? Do it. Time management is one of the mechanics that I first thought would really annoy me; but I quickly figured out that it solves a problem for me that I often have with open world games or other games with loads of side activities: it keeps my focus in check. Most side activities cause one half of the day to pass, so you could fill one day with two side activities. Exploring a dungeon however will cause the whole day to pass. So if – for example – you want to go fishing at night (because it’s cheaper) you can’t go to the dungeon that day. The time management only gets more complex as you gather more and more confidants (more on that in a moment) that you want to build a relationship with in addition to the protagonist’s own skills that you want to enhance by taking part in certain activities. You can even lend DVDs to watch at home that you need to return within two weeks. That all might sound annoying but it really isn’t; it actually helps the player prioritizing instead of getting lost in all the possible activities.

 

It’s worth pointing out that the topics that Persona 5 attends to are often heavy. The game – as lighthearted as it can be at times – deals with sexual harassment, physical and psychological abuse, working conditions, drugs, blackmailing and even rabble-rousing and murder. Games are often a way to escape reality and the problems we face in reality for a bit, but while many games chose to offer a more abstract or even ridiculous way of relieving stress (sometimes even by building a different type of stress) Persona 5 lets the player stand against those real life problems, solving them with supernatural powers and even explains that bad people are not born bad but fall victim to their own desires which are often created by defining experiences in their past. It’s unusual to find this in a game and even though monologues and dialogues are mostly delivered in a very anime, over-the-top style, I feel like Persona 5 never falls flat on the severity of its topics.

 

Of course the protagonist doesn’t fight alone. You will meet a certain number of confidants – supporters if you will – that can roughly be seperated into two types: party members and supporting characters. Party members will fight with you, you can change their equipment, chose skills of their Persona when they level up and even tell them what to do in rush more – some sort of fast forward for easy fights. Supporting characters will sell you stuff or help you enhance your skills and while party members are not missable and tied to the main story, supporting characters can be missed. I know for a fact that I didn’t forge a bond with at least one confidant and another one I didn’t get until the last story dungeon (which means I played through the game without the ability to change fighting party members in-fight; yes, those kind of abilities can come with confidants). You can strengthen your bond with every confidant by spending time with them and with some you can even enter a love relationship (you can even have more than one love relationship at the same time) but it’s not always as easy as approaching a confidant and pressing a button. Sometimes they don’t have time for you, sometimes you need to reach a certain level with a skill (Angelic Kindness is till haunting me) which means you’ll first need to spend your time on activities increasing your skills like watching movies, reading books, caring about your plant or eating fast food (sic!). With all of that the game develops a totally different kind of dynamic compared to other JRPGs and it’s this dynamic that helps countering the problem of pacing that many games in the genre often have. It creates a nice back and forth between engaging exploration with frantic fighting and interesting interaction with NPCs and more mundane activities and although the beginning of the game is very slow, this slowness is what helps emphasise the drama once shit hits the fan and the wheels start to spin faster.

 

 

I already wrote that to me P5‘s fighting is the best iteration of turn based JRPG combat so far and that has a lot to do with the way Personas work. While other party members stick to one specific Persona, the protagonist can hold more than one and Personas are acquired by negotiating with enemy Personas, trying to recruit them. You will also learn the skill to fuse two (and later more) Personas into one new Persona and it’s this variety and freedom that truly brings Persona 5′s fighting system to life especially since the combinations of elemental strengths and weaknesses, passive skills, buffs and debuffs and other special abilities like drain and reflect create a complexity that I would consider good complexity. Many games introduce complexity to their mechanics just for the sake of having said complexity but in P5 this complexity is an optional toolset that is evolves naturally but can also be largely ignored if the player wants to pull through the game by brute force. It’s another way of keeping the fights interesting throughout the game.

 

All of this doesn’t mean P5 is a perfect game however. I already wrote how the game is technically a PS3 game but it doesn’t ran smoothly on my PS4 Pro all the time either. Hickups were rare but they did occur which seems strange. Also the game takes a bit to get up to speed and the beginning hours can feel sluggish. Probably my biggest point of criticism is the way the camera behaves when using the stealth mechanic. Being a phantom thief means you will sneak through the palaces and try to ambush enemies to get an advantage in combat. This advantage combined with clever execution on the enemies’ weaknesses is what enables the player to overcome enemies that are much stronger which feels great and empowering no matter how often you do it. On the other side, being ambushed by lower level enemies can quickly result in a game over if the weaknesses of your party are exploited. This happened to me 2 times in my whole playthrough but every time it made me stop playing the game. Not because I had lost but because the ambush was only possible due to the way the games’ stealth mechanic work. As long as you’re not detected by an enemy, you can go into stealth mode at specific points in the environment and you can also swiftly jump to new cover positions without being seen and also ambush enemies that come within reach. However, the camera tries to avoid solid obstacles, forcing you to try and get an enemy into your viewport and then hitting “X” to ambush. However, if the enemy turns in the meantime or the distance changes slightly you will ambush into the empty space right beneath the enemy and if you’re seen the enemy will likely ambush you faster than you can react. It’s weird because every other aspect of the game is so well polished.

 

 

Conclusion: 5 (on a -5 to 5 scale). I really had a hard time coming up with a score for Persona 5. I didn’t expect to play a game like Breath of the Wild that feels genre defining to me again so soon. And I certainly don’t want to be part of the score inflation of the recent decades although my review is merely an amateur one. But every time I picked up the gamepad to lead the Phantom Thieves to their next target, every time I chose to go learning at the diner for upcoming exams, every time I had to decide between multiple confidants asking for my time to discuss topics or simply spend time together I overdrew my videogame time limit; hard. I also know there are multiple positive points I wanted to address when I started writing this review but forgot by now; but it doesn’t matter. Persona 5 is the type of game you can enjoy on a hot summer evening with a cold Gin & Tonic as well as on a cold winter day with a cup of hot chocolate. It stole my heart, how could I not give it the best possible score?

ARMS – Review

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The genre of Fighting Games – which is not to be confused with Beat ’em Ups – can be tracked back to 1976 when SEGA released their game Heavyweight Champ. Nowadays, Fighting Games have become a wide field of competitive sensation that even got its own popular event every year called Evo that’s a profitable championship with tens of thousand viewers watching as pro Fighting Game players compete against each other in different games. Those game can get as technical as the long running Tekken series but can also be much less about combo crafting and more about tactical mind games like Nintendo‘s popular Smash Bros. series. The genre has grown a lot since the rivalry of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat and it’s terminology as well as the abstract ideas behind them can be quite intimidating for newcomers who want to get into them. ARMS tries to extract the core idea of Fighting Games and transform them into something more digestible without scaring off players familiar with the genre. Can it do to Fighting Games what Mario Kart did to Racing games? Let’s see…

 

 

The name ARMS could not be more fitting to this game that puts its fighters with their extendable arms front and center. The idea is to play a game of spacing and strategy, resulting in tactics born from action and reaction in a kind of rock, paper and scissors style. Punches can be blocked, blocks open an opportunity for throws and throws can be cancelled by punches, but there are almost always means to use those actions and trick your opponent; you could block for a prolonged time only to wait for your enemy to start a throw and then quickly punch them. This leads to many situations where the game quickly gets to its meta mechanics of risk and reward, trying to outplay your opponent with witty tactics and unpredictable behaviour. But that doesn’t mean skill is not involved. ARMS is a very dynamic game where composure can make all the difference in a close battle as you try to pull off actions as you intended and not starting to mash buttons (if playing with classic controls) or moving the JoyCons furiously (if playing with motion controls). Its also useful to have a general strategy, a battle plan, set up that you always can go back to. Such strategies would depend on the arena you are fighting in and the character of you opponent which means that knowledge of the game’s content will definitely come in handy and make you a better player. It’s worth noting that the motion controls work very well and while I prefer my sticks and buttons, this is definitely not Wii Sports Boxing 2!

 

 

ARMS‘s cast of characters consists of 10 different playable fighters that differ in weight, speed, special abilities, design and ARMS available from the start. Most of them are iconic and well designed, easily noticeable and will without doubt spawn interesting cosplay in the future. Like the characters in many other Fighting Games though, they lack deeper personality and so it’s difficult to see them as more than fancy tools that you want to get familiar with. Part of this is the lack of proper and interesting single player content, especially compared to something like Injustice 2‘s great campaign mode. The only reasons to keep playing the single player tournament is the AI – which is quite capable in the middle levels and is able to destroy you at the higher levels – as well as the fact that you need to beat the tournament at least on difficulty level 4 (of 7) to unlock the competitive ranked online mode. Other than that the only thing I got out of the mode so far are coins which you can also get by playing other modes like the online party mode where a lobby of up to 12 players will be thrown at each other in combat scenarios of 1vs1, 2vs2, 3vs3, 4vs4 or even player vs boss AI. The single player mode can be played cooperatively though which is a great way to ease your friends into the game! Combat modes range from classic fighting to target destruction, basketball (where your goal is to punch or throw your enemy in the basket) and volleyball. It’s a much more interesting and fun mode to learn about different ARMS and characters and to farm coins. And farming coins you will do. A lot. Every character starts with a set of 3 different ARMS that you can select from before every battle for your left and right arm separately. Those ARMS are mostly fine for learning the basics of each character but once you found your main character you will want to get more to broaden your selection and thus your strategic options. Acquiring them is done by playing a mini game in which you will need to destroy targets and once in a while get the chance to punch a box which will grant you a new ARM for one of the characters. This mini game can be played in a short, medium and long variant and playing them will cost you 30, 100 and 200 coins respectively.

 

 

The problem with that is this: not only are the ARMS itself random, the character they are for is randomly chosen as well (although the chance is increased to get an ARM for the character you’re playing the minigame with) which means you will spend a lot of coins to even unlock a complete set for the character you want. The number of ARMS you unlock is also tied somewhat to your performance in the minigame and also the maximum amount of boxes that will appear differ, which leads to the next problem: I have seen 3-4 ARM boxes in short, 8-11 in medium and 18-22 in long variants of the minigame. This means one ARM will cost you between 7.5 and 10 coins in short, 9 and 12.5 coins in medium and 9 and 11 in long variants (according to my own experience, other players may have different numbers). To me this means that the short variant is pretty much the best one which I also have to save up the least for and it overall reduces the danger of completely messing up because with one bad run, you only waste 30 coins instead of 100 or 200. To me, it’s not a good adaptation of the system used in Mario Kart 8 especially because you’re not exactly awash with coins. Technically the game is very solid, with great use of color and specular materials and it runs at a rock solid 60 frames per second which is absolutely key to such a fighting game; the exception is the 4 player splitscreen where the game has to compromise with 30 frames prer second but this mode is only good for casual party gaming anyway. The arenas are varied and the soundtrack is quite catchy but still not nearly as good as Mario Kart 8. The game’s mechancis work great and are a lot of fun to explore and apply and the depth of this game becomes apparent after the first few fights. It’s certainly the most unique fighting game available which says a lot when you have other fighting games that are brutal or cute, have Superheroes and -villains fighting each other as well as over the top Anime characters and even drawn stick men.

 

 

Conclusion: 2 (on a -5 to 5 scale). ARMS is one brilliant idea flawlessly executed but not backed up with a lot of content. Nintendo has already promised future free content updates and the first new character is about to be released, probably with a new stage as well since every character has its own signature stage. The unlocking mechanic is something that I feel holds ARMS back although it means to keep players engaged. We will see if ARMS has some legs through its updates (like Splatoon) and I hope it will get enough attention from the fighting game community so this can become a returning franchise for Nintendo. Right now its a great game to enthrall new players interested in the genre but only features enough to keep veterans around. It gets better with every hour played but probably loses a lot of players in the process. It’s like a very tasty sausage, cut down at both ends.

My E3 findings

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I originally planned to do some step-by-step recap of the E3 conferences, with ratings and stuff. But after Void’s wonderful postings for each show and FireFish’s great (if not exactly mine) opionions (which you can read HERE) I decided to go for a more loose and essay-like recap and what I took away after some days of digesting, dislodging from imminent hype and getting things straight for myself. Let’s go, shall we?

 

Microsoft is trying to catch up…

I think no one watching the Microsoft show got a feeling of confidence from this company that managed to lose the goodwill and following of many million players of the 360 era in merely 12 months. Microsoft has since been unsteady in its decisions regarding the XBox and this was more obvious than ever at this year’s E3 show. It knows the PS4 managed to pull ahead immediately because many player’s (like myself) just wouldn’t buy a less powerful console for $100 more. They thought Kinect and TV functionality would be great technical investments and were all wrong about it. Now they announced what will be the most powerful console on the market but are again $100 more than the PS4 Pro while the redesigned XBox One S and PS4 Slim are sitting comfortably on mass market pricing. They also lost a lot of exclusivity deals with 3rd party developers and because their 1st party output is not even close to what SONY and Nintendo can do (and are doing) they decided to show just a load of games (many of them Indie and AA games) with some sort of exclusivity while trying to emphasize on the message that multiplatform games will look best on XBox One X.

 

…but they are still failing.

The problem with all of that is this: the 3rd party games shown don’t compete with the high production value exclusive games of SONY nor do they look as exciting gameplay wise as the exclusive games of Nintendo. They exist and that’s just not enough. Microsoft is also running into a problem with the XBox One X’s performance. While it manages to have 50% more GPU performance, the CPU is built upon the same bad architecture that PS4, PS4 Pro and XBox One (S) are based on. What does this mean? It means that while 3rd party games may be able to pull of a true 4k instead of lower resolution or checkerboard rendering of the PS4 Pro the results simply won’t be noticeable most of the time. The CPU is just not powerful enough for a 100% framerate increase compared to the PS4 Pro which means you will indeed get similar results in the end. The only games that normally profit from such a supererogation are 1st party exclusives that are built specifically for the platform – of which the XBox One X just doesn’t have that much. Forza 7 in 4k at 60 fps sure does look and will play impressive but a racing game alone won’t sell the console. That’s why Microsoft was trying to explain that any XBox One title will benefit from the performance because XBox One X will render them automatically at a higher resolution. That’s great but honestly no reason even for 4k TV owners like myself to pay $500. What’s also great is the cooling and form factor but I am being honest here: my XBox One S is the slickest and quietest modern console I have ever owned. The XBox One X may be even slicker and quieter but even I as someone who gets bothered by cooling noise easily (why, SONY, does the PS4 Pro need to be so noisy sometimes?) doubt the XBox One X will be a significant improvement over the XBox One S. And so I just cancelled my preorder of the XBox One X. Just now as I am writing these lines. Yup, Cancelled. What Microsoft needs to do is to heavily market the XBox One S as well. That’s a console you can get for $200 to play games like Forza, Gears of War, Halo, State of Decay, Sea of Thieves, etc. if you’re interested in them and don’t want to bother yourself with Windows 10 PC gaming. What Microsoft also needs to do is get some AAA high quality exclusive games again. Not timed exclusives and not with some exclusive content. They are doing a lot right in terms of coss buy (with Windows 10) and cross play (with Switch and Smartphones even), backwards compatibility (how much I wish I could just pop in my PS3 copies of Ni No Kuni and the Metal Gear Solid collection in my PS4), development tool quality and their id@XBox program. But if they really want to be a worthy contender to SONY again, they need to up their game (pun intended) and start getting those heavy hits in.

 

SONY is trying to deliver…

SONY’s show was pretty much what I expected. Many gamers are a bit frustrated because of the great E3s of 2015 and 2016 but here’s the catch: both years SONY announced a lot of titles that are far far away. It’s like a mortage for hype and SONY knows which is why they were focusing on stuff that comes out this year and next year. And that stuff has been announced already. Last of Us 2 is still very early in production and preparing an E3 showing does cost a lot of time and money which Naughty Dog already invested in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. But PS4 is still a great primary platform for gaming with full 3rd party support and a lot of high budget AAA productions. They also try to push VR further (which is completely uninteresting to me at the moment) but they need to keep that going. It felt a little bit like when 3D and the Vita sections started to shrink. I hope I am wrong because VR could get really interesting to me with the next generation of hardware and the experience developers will have earned with VR by then.

 

…but needs to be careful with that rising arrogance.

I feel like SONY should focus more on features that are not only for the majority of gamers. Being able to change the PSN nickname is a feature that people are demanding for years now, backwards compatibility is another. SONY also tries to explain why they wouldn’t allow cross play with other platforms than the PC with reasons of protecting kids which is insane considering both XBox Live and Nintendo are far more protective than Steam or PSN itself (on Xbox One you can set exactly what your kids can play, how they can interact online – on PS4 it’s just all or nothing). Everyone is aware that SONY just doesn’t want the competition to profit from their big PS4 playerbase. That’s nasty and not exactly for the players, but it’s reasonable from a business point of view. Just don’t pretend you have your own player’s well being in mind when that’s clearly not the case. At least be honest so it won’t be as comical when you should need to make some exceptions in the future (because your version of Minecraft will be worst because every other platform – including Nintendo Switch! – is connected and DLC will work across all of them as well).

 

Nintendo learned a thing or two from SONY…

“How to win an E3 in 25 minutes” has already become kind of a meme. Nintendo’s show – 3 months after the Switch’s release – was decent with Xenoblade 2 and Mario Odyseey releasing this year and Yoshi and Kirby coming 2018. But what really excited many fans was a logo and some spoken announcement. Metroid Prime 4 and a main Pokemon game are both coming for the Switch. No one knows when exactly, but they are coming. Nintendo took a page out of SONY’s playbook here because those kind of announcements are very unusual for Nintendo. The company likes to announce games that are already pretty far in development and can be shown off easily, yet neither Metroid nor Pokemon had even some alpha status kind of screenshot or gameplay trailer. Nintendo finally understood that sometimes fans just want to know that the thing they are asking for is coming. Acknowledgement. It’s important.

 

…but will still not compete directly with SONY and Microsoft.

Nintendo is doing a lot right lately, which even got them some praise from 3rd parties. Still, the Switch – with it’s unusual premise – will not be able to compete directly with PS4 and XO. We will certainly see more and more 3rd party games coming to Switch as sales of the system continue to grow (especially from Japan where the Switch is the best selling gaming platform each week since its release) but developers will be very careful which game they will spend their ressources on. Games for Switch need to benefit from the portability so the ports will be reasonable sidesteps instead of unwanted steps backwards. Skyrim is the type of game that definitively makes sense because of all the content that can be leisurely be experienced on the go or at home (like Breath of the Wild). Call of Duty that you really need to focus on and get everything from its blockbuster audiovisual presentation? Not so much. Anthem with its online community focus and high quality graphics? Neither. And the problem is this: as Phil Spencer from Microsoft already mentioned more than once more and more games are planned as a service to keep players engaged and connected and monetized. The Switch is pretty much the opposite of that; sure: games like Mario Kart and ARMS (that I am planning to write a review for artsygamer on) are much less interesting when not played online, but they work great with local multiplayer as well which was one of the Switch’s design goals apart from being able to take it with you and play on the go.

 

For me, nothing has changed.

This year I am coming out of E3 just as I went in. Sure, new and exciting games like Wolfenstein II have been announced. But my gaming setup will not change. The Switch will still be my daily companion and primary platform for all games that are great to play on the go, the PS4 is still getting sweet AAA games exclusive to the platform and Microsoft is still trying to transform XBox to something that goes beyond being a hardware platform while still trying to keep the hardware relevant and competitive somehow. The biggest surprise to me was honestly how much fun Mario + Rabbids seems to be and that Ubisoft is able to deliver a good E3 show in general. Everything else I pretty much knew before. That means not many pleasant surprises. But that also means almost no unpleasant suprises as well. To me, that’s enough to be a good E3. But for next year, I want more again.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Review

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There a few genres nowadays that Nintendo still dominates like they used to in past century. The industry has grown a lot since back then and while most games from Nintendo still belong to the top of the crowd, there is one genre that they still dominate today like they did back since 1992: the fun racer. Although humble attempts at the genre like Crash Team Racing and Blur tried to break Nintendo‘s monopoly, the fun racing genre is till all about Mario Kart. A game series that started of brilliantly with Super Mario Kart and stayed on top of every eventual competition ever since because they never radically changed the formula although with every game there was some unique aspect like the two player on one cart mechanic from Double Dash or the motion controls added to Mario Kart 7 for the Wii. Now we’ve got Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the new Nintendo Switch which for the first time wasn’t built on top of the basic Mario Kart foundation but instead iterates on a complete game released on the WiiU in 2014.

 

 

So what did the Deluxe version change compared to the WiiU version? Well, the most communicated change was the addition of a bunch of real Battle Mode arenas that the WiiU version is lacking. It was the biggest complaint about the 2014 Mario Kart because the Battle Mode has been a core mode of the series ever since the SNES Super Mario Kart and while technically still existing in Mario Kart 8, it was clearly handled with a lower priority with no dedicated arenas and players instead driving around the standard race tracks of the game trying to pop each others balloons. For Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nintendo did put in a bunch of real arenas specifically designed for this Switch release. The other big change is that players can now hold two items at once and some item containers now give two items when driving through them. I’ll discuss the implications of this change later, just let me tell you that while being a positive change in general it really drives the frustration factor in some places. Other than that, Nintendo has added some additional drivers but that’s about it.

 

Mario Kart 8 was a great game to begin with and as you would expect the Deluxe version starts high because of that. The art direction is what I would still call very strong, with great track designs and small details like face expressions of the characters when overtaking others or getting hit. Effects are being put to good use without ever getting in the player’s face and textures are underlining the overall aesthetic of the game fine. The Deluxe version received some technical improvements compared to the WiiU version though, most notably a true 1080p resolution and I am not sure if it’s because of that or if Nintendo also raised the texture resolution but the game looks better than its 2014 foundation. It also stays at a solid 60 frames per second when playing split screen with another person and drops to 30 frames when playing in 3 or 4 player split screen mode without sacrificing the 1080p. One thing that has to be mentioned again is just how great the soundtrack of this game is. It was praised back in 2014 for its quality and Nintendo luckily didn’t change a thing here.

 

 

Nintendo also added some control options, most notably the smart contols. Those will auto correct the driving of the player without the player really noticing it and it really helps to stay on track and just feel good playing Mario Kart. The only visible clue that a driver has enabled this helper mode is a little antenna coming out of the back. It won’t enable to let beginners play like a pro all of a sudden but it makes the game more accessible. The other options are auto accelerate and motion controls and with all three enabled Mario Kart 8 Deluxe can be controlled similarly to what was possible on Mario Kart 7 on the Wii or Mario Kart 8 on the WiiU, but it works much better!

In general Nintendo should be commended for all the options they put into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe but then again it shouldn’t be surprising that the company that was always on the forefront of intuitive gameplay and new control options is thinking about how to draw in new players while not putting off long time fans. The only change that I don’t really get is the missing YouTube export from the replay gallery. This was a very nice feature of the original Mario Kart 8 and it seems to be missing in the Deluxe edition. Maybe this is due to planned system wide video sharing functionality that Nintendo promised at the Switch reveal event but right now there is no way of getting your replays from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to YouTube without additional hardware.

 

 

Teased before, let’s talk about the change in game mechanics with the dual item handling. I can see why this decision was made by Nintendo because it makes the game more interesting for beginners and gives them more opportunities to attack drivers in front of them, but it really raises the difficulty on the other end of the spektrum significantly. Mario Kart being sometimes brutal with the things that can come at you in the final round is a thing that exists since the introduction of the blue shell that will automatically hit the driver in the first place. But never before has it been this punishing, especially in the 200cc cups. See, in the slower cups, any perfect turn and every drift boost that you can get out is something the rest of the drivers will have a hard time catching up to because the speed of the vehicles is limited. Even with Mario Kart’s infamous rubberband AI, you can gain so much advantage that even bad luck won’t hold you back from taking that 1st place in the end. But as you enter higher cc cups, the reward for driving perfectly is less pronounced in gains but not driving perfectly is punished harder as it becomes more difficult to stay on the track.

 

200cc is a speed introduced as a free update for the original Mario Kart 8 and back then I didn’t spend a lot of time with it. At that time I had already unlocked everything and was comfortable with playing online (which is 100cc if I am not mistaken). But in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, you need to get at least the gold trophy in ever 200cc cup to unlock Gold-Mario; this is just a prestige thing, but a long-time Mario Kart player like me needs to have him, especially since every other driver is unlocked from the start (which is different from the WiiU Mario Kart 8 and – as I think – a good thing). I just got my last 200cc cup finished with a gold trophy and 3 stars (which means you need to finish every race in that cup 1st place) this morning and the journey towards that was brutal. 200cc needs you to learn a new facette of Mario Kart: braking. And by that I don’t mean hard braking before going into a turn, it is braking while drifting to reduce the drift radius on the fly so your speed will not vault you off the track. By the time I unlocked Gold-Mario I felt pretty confident in the art of brake-drifting but of course I wanted to have those 3 stars everywhere. And this is where the frustration began. Taking the first place in every 200cc race is not so much a matter of skill at some point but you need luck. A lot of luck sometimes.

 

 

I was struck by luck sometimes where I managed to finish some races 1st place after coming into the last turn as 8th place only to see that all 7 drivers before me had been hit by a blue shell explosion. But more often, I found myself driving perfect races only to have my blue shell destroying horn taken from my by a ghose powerup from a different driver and then get hit by a blue shell and 3 red shells just to come in second. Those are moments where the randomness of Mario Kart will not result in exhilerating enjoyment anymore but pure frustration due to the fact that every other driver now has double the chance to screw you over because of that changed gameplay mechanic. I want to stress though, that those frustrating moments don’t happen until you hit that skill ceiling and really start to go for that ultimate goal of having the perfect rating in every cup. If that’s what it takes to get more players into Mario Kart because its more enjoyable for them I think the change is a good one in the end after all.

 

It also works surprisingly well online where I didn’t have a feeling of “that’s much more chaotic than before” so far. Races pretty much feel the same they did with the original Mario Kart 8 which is probably due to the fact that the AI is somewhat working together against the player while actual players are more of lonely bastions only trying to fight for themselves. I onyl tried out the Battle Mode briefly online because I still need to improve a lot to be competitive there but it’s fast and fun and filled with enough different modes to feel fresh even after playing for 1 or 2 hours.

 

 

Conclusion: 4 (on a -5 to 5 scale). Let’s get it out of the way: if you have even the slightest interest in fun racing there is no way around Mario Kart, and if we’re at that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. It’s the best version of the best fun racing series that is available to date. If you already own Mario Kart 8 for the WiiU it might not be worth the full price (especially if you don’t want to play online anymore) but on the other hand you can eventually sell the WiiU disc and give yourself a decent discount for the Switch version. I hope that Nintendo will find a better way to balance out the random generator in a future installment and I don’t understand why the YouTube sharing function has been taken away from the replay mode. But other than that I feel like Nintendo has very little room left for improvement in future Mario Kart titles and I am curious what they will come up to differentiate the next Mario Kart from this great installment.

Yippie, soon it’s E3! Here are my Top 10 predictions…

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So E3 will take place in LA from June 13th to June 15th this year, but Microsoft will be kicking off the party actually on Sunday June 12th because as more and more companies are starting to have their press conferences and live events, shedules get pretty crowded. There is a German gamer community called Consolewars that I am pretty active on and they are doing some Bingo game every year where every user can pick 16 things that they believe will happen or won’t happen. Inspired by that, here are my Top 10 predictions for this year’s E3:

 

10. Microsoft’s Scorpio will be revealed
I know, that’s kind of a cheap one. Microsoft announced Project Scorpio at last year’s E3 and Digital Foundry already reported on the specs and what Scorpio will be able to do. But when I say revealed, I mean the actual machine, on stage, possibly running some games. We will see the design, get to know the real name and Microsoft will announce the release date and the price for its new console powerhouse. And because – as I mentioned – this one is kind of a cheap prediction, I am giving you a little bonus here: I think the price of the Scorpio will be either $499 or – if Microsoft is willing to take a loss to bump up sales – $449.

 

9. Microsoft’s new games
My next prediction revolves around the games that Microsoft will show off. Here are my predictions on 4 games that I think Microsoft will announce at least 2 of for the first time (so in dev stuff like Sea of Thieves doesn’t count): Forza 7, an exclusive Ninja Gaiden, time exclusive Borderlands 3, Fable Online, Knight of Aegis. Also I hope for another Ryse Son of Rome game (which I kind of liked, similarly to The Order 1886). And Microsoft needs to show Crackdown 3. It’s either completely different than what was announced years ago or it’s dead and burried. If it’s the later, bring on the sequel to Kameo Elements of Power and Panzer Dragoon! Returning already announced games will include Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2.

 

8. Games at the SONY press conference
This prediction is about which games will be prominently shown at SONY’s press conference, and I am talking 3rd party here. I can already see 2 big ones with Resident Evil 2 Remake and Shenmue 3 [Shenmue 3 will not be at E3, confirmed by the dev team]. Destiny 2 will probably also be there with some SONY (time-)exclusive DLC announcements as well as Call of Duty WWII. The one I am not so sure about yet because it would make more sense to show off at Tokyo Game Show is the Final Fantasy VII Remake, but you’ll never know. Oh, and don’t forget that Death Stranding gameplay demo that Kojima will be presenting comfortably between the live demos of The Last of Us Chapter 2 and the new God of War game; because it’s time now. Seriously. Also – I know chances are slim, but: can I please get The Order 1887? I want to know how the story will proceed, how the characters will be developed.

 

7. Ubisoft
With the recent success of Ghost Recon Wildlands and For Honor, Ubisoft is in a strong position and I think Assassins Creed [CONFIRMED] and The Crew [CONFIRMED] will only be two of the existing franchises that will have a sequel announced this E3. Other than that though, I could imagine Ubisoft to either announce a new Watchdogs or a new Division Addon as well. Plus, I expect some Nintendo Switch games, but more on that within the Nintendo predictions. Oh, and FarCry 5 [CONFIRMED] in a kind of Wild West theme [modern Midwest? setting confirmed]. It’s a thing, believe!

 

6. EA
EA has – just like last year – its own event which happens to cross E3 again. The big title this year will probably be Battlefront 2, except for the inevitable new FIFA, Madden, NBA, etc. games. I think we will also see a new Need For Speed announced. But I don’t expect any major surprises from EA. Mass Effect Andromeda went kind of the wrong way, Titanfall 2 didn’t do well despite being critically acclaimed. A new Dragon Age could be announced though. And Medal of Honor is a franchise that’s sleeping for too long now, especially with a WWII Call of Duty coming this year.

 

5. Bethesda
Right before E3, the Morrowind addon for TESO will be released so I don’t expect any announcement there. New Skyrim versions for PS4, XO and Switch are coming this year so I wouldn’t hold my breath for a next Elder Scrolls announcement either. What we know will be coming is a new Multiplayer Quake, but I actually hope that a new Wolfenstein will be announced. I also expect The Evil Within 2 being announced as well as a DOOM singeplayer addon. I mean come on Bethesda, last year’s DOOM sold like hot cake and all we got with DLCs is multiplayer stuff that no one asked for. Got to milk that masterpiece!

 

4. Nintendo
So, after the Switch having a very successful launch and being still sold out in most places (expect to wait 3-4 weeks until you get one if you order now!), Nintendo needs to find a good balance between announcing games that are not too far off and keeping the 3DS platform alive for too long. There is a lot of stuff that Nintendo could announce this E3, and my predictions will be they are most likely some of these: Super Mario Maker for Switch, Super Smash Bros. for Switch, Bayonetta + Bayonetta 2 for Switch, a new Metroid game, the new game by Retro Studios (95 developers that haven’t announced or released a game since February 2014? They will show off something new) and the long time rumored Pokemon Stars. There will also be updates for Super Mario Odysee and Xenoblade 2 but more importantly, I expect at least one exclusive game from Ubisoft (probably the rumored Mario Rabbids crossover [kind of CONFIRMED] and not Zombi 2) as well a Monster Hunter Switch announcement from Capcom [already happened: Monster Hunter XX]. I could also imagine Capcom to be porting either Resident Evil 7 or the Resident Evil 2 Remake to Switch, since they told everyone they were porting the RE Engine to Switch pretty early on. Nintendo will also need to finally disclose some of their plans regarding online service and virtual console.

 

3. What we won’t see
This one makes me sad, but here is what I don’t think we will see: Bloodborne 2, a new F-Zero game, a new Halo game, a Scalebound reboot, a new Syphon Filter, Kevin Butler returning on the SONY E3 stage, a From Software game announcement for Nintendo Switch, a new Diddy Kong racing, a really exciting game announcement from Konami and Mafia 4 (it’s too early, even though Mafia 3 sold extremely well). And Resident Evil 8. I think that announcement’s another year off. Also that return of SEGA as a console manufacturer is not coming. I wish this wasn’t true, but (again) no Dreamcast 2.

 

2. Unpleasant returns
I think there will be two returning franchises that will get an announcement in such a way that most gamers rather would have no announcement at all: Metal Gear Solid and Just Dance.

 

1. Winner of E3 2017
I don’t think there will be a clear winner company wise. I expect SONY to have the best show in terms of show setup and pacing, I expect Nintendo to have a great return to the playing field as a real contender against SONY and Microsoft and Microsoft has the advantage of having new gaming hardware to show and accompany it with new stuff which is always exciting. The true winners of E3 will be us, the gamers. Be excited!

Ready to make the Switch?

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Ever since the WiiU’s fate was sealed, gaming enthusiasts wondered what the next Nintendo console would be like. Would there even be a next home console from Nintendo? A bunch of patents suggested a hybrid between home- and portable console while others showed new gimmicks. When Nintendo then showed of their new console Switch – formerly known as NX – the main feature was immediately understood by everyone. This was very different from the revelation of the WiiU which even more seasoned gamers didn’t understand at first.

The console was released March 3rd this year for $299/€330 and has been a huge success since. It’s still not in stock at Amazon and other big retailers but you might ask yourself if this new thing from Nintendo is for you. I’ve been using the Switch since launch (a bit over 6 weeks at the time of writing) and will now try to tell you if you’re ready to make the switch.

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If you don’t know what the Switch is, Nintendo explains the Switch like this: the Switch is Nintendo’s new home console, that attempts to make the “home” part optional by giving you the opportunity of taking it with you, wheter you want to play it in your garden, in your bed or on the train. Many people will probably describe the Switch as a handheld console with a docking station to play your games on the TV. The truth is: it is neither one, nor the other.

The difference between the Switch and something like the 3DS or even the PlayStation Vita is the hardware power of the console and the way its makers are going to support it. While 3DS and Vita most of the time got the low-fi games of the best selling franchises the Switch will be Nintendo’s flagship device. As such Nintendo put more power in it than it would have in a regular handheld and it also renounced features like Streetpass that were prominently put in their 3DS devices for the past 6 years.

But the Switch is also not your typical next gen console. To even have a chance of being portable, Nintendo’s engineers had to find a partner to supply them with relatively powerful but small CPU and GPU hardware that would also be easy to program for and be as battery friendly as possible. It found that partner with NVidia which provides a custom Tegra SoC. It’s a powerful chipset – at least 2 times as powerful than what the WiiU is with room for further improvement if early adopter developers are to be trusted – but compared to the PS4 and XO ports will probably need to be noticeably downgraded in asset quality to run well. Some are calling Nintendo out for daylight robbery because of its hardware power and price, but there is one important point that often gets forgotten: form factor. Being a console that you can take on the go the Switch is hardly 1/6 of the WiiU’s size and circa 1/25 the size of a PS4 Pro.

SWITCH_02

The picture above shows the PS4 Pro, WiiU and Switch and shows the huge difference in size. This is of course because the Switch can be taken anywhere (a proper case is recommended) and this works beautifully. The Switch has accompanied me almost every time I left the house in the past 6 weeks (except for some jogging workout and visits at the barber because I know I never have to wait long) and I have played games like Breath of the Wild (find my review of it on artsygamer as well), Shovel Knight, Binding of Isaac and others; let me tell you this: I don’t want to take a train ride without the Switch ever again.

The JoyCon controllers work fine for me most of the time, especially using them detached from the Switch is an amazing feeling for me; something that other people might have to get used to admittedly. They can’t compete with the Pro controller though which might very well be the best gamepad I have used so far (disclaimer: I didn’t get the chance to play with the XBox One Pro Controller so far), save for the shoulder triggers which sadly are digital triggers; it would have been difficult to put analogue triggers on the JoyCons – I get it; it would have been a nice feature for racing games nevertheless.

Battery runtime is another important topic as well for portability and I am happy to report that mixing games I get 5 hours out of the Switch most of the time. While this may seem little compared to the 3DS, it actually is close to my experience with the PlayStation Vita’s battery life and somewhat remarkable compared to the battery runtime of smartphones when doing some non-stop gaming. Luckily Nintendo uses a USB type C on the Switch which allows for some cheap battery pack setups that will prolong the Switch’s life on the go easily to something around 8 to 12 hours. I have an emergency battery pack in my bag all the time (mainly because smartphones and friends who may need a quick recharge on the go) but so far never had to use it on my Switch.

SWITCH_03

I don’t want to conceal some caveats I have with the system however. The first thing is the system’s management of space and how it doesn’t allow the user to control it. The system’s internal space is 32GB and of course not all of it is useable. The Switch can handle Micro SD cards however which means you can expand the memory by 128GB for as low as €35 (even lower if you access speed is no concern for you). But the way the Switch handles storage is annoying. If there is not Micro SD card present, the system defaults to its internal storage of course. If a Micro SD card is present, the system defaults to the Micro SD card as long as there is space. And the user has no option to transfer data from one to the other. Most of the time this is just fine but if – for example – you want to take advantage of the faster internal storage for a game like Zelda, you need to take out your Micros SD card to force Zelda to download on the system’s memory and then insert the SD card back into the system. I haven’t tried out yet how the save files are created. Of course you’ll want them on a Micro SD card because you can just backup the encrypted data on your PC, but as with the games themselfes the save data can also not be transferred between SD card and device. This means if your Switch breaks your savegames might all be lost. And since there is no cloud saving yet (more on that later) the same goes for a lost or stolen Switch.

There are also no Video On Demand service apps like Amazon or Netflix on the device yet. Reggie Fils Aime told the press that they wanted to focus on getting out a great gaming device first and that apps for the large services will come later so it doesn’t bother me too much. But in the first 4 weeks after the Switch’s release when I was roaming the wild lands of Hyrule, the only reason I turned on other consoles at all was to watch some Netflix or Amazon on them because I couldn’t on the Switch. I also think apps that allow you to download some content and then watch it on the go would be a huge boon for the Switch.

And the last point on my list is all about Nintendo’s upcoming online services. With the Switch, Nintendo will be the last console manufacturer to join the “pay for our online service”-service providers. Currently all online functionality is still free while Nintendo is seemingly still figuring out what the paid service will offer exactly and how much they will charge for it. From my experience, online gaming works pretty good so far with low latency and reasonably fast matchmaking but other than Fast RMX and the Splatoon Testfire Beta there was not much to test so far anyway. April 28th will see the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe which will be the first huge multiplayer title to really stress the Nintendo Network for Switch. It should hold up though since Nintendo is using Amazon’s cloud infrastructure which offers high performance and scalability. A bigger questionmark has to be put behind the free retro game offerings and additional features like cloud gamesaves. Nintendo’s plans for voice chat by smartphone app have already been dissed by a lot of players and we will need to wait what and how Nintendo will show and offer.

SWITCH_04

Conclusions: the Nintendo Switch is a device that I don’t want to miss anymore. It is not only the logical step to take for a company that needs to break away from the WiiU’s failure but also a major step forward in respect of product design and feature balance. But it’s also a device that will clearly see a lot of improvement in software short- and mid-term and probably new revisions and price cuts mid- and long-term. If you want a rating, here’s my formula for you to find out:

1. How much do you want to have a unique and new gaming hardware on a scale from -1 to 1?
2. How important is it to you being able to seamlessly switch between mobile and living room gaming on a scale from -2 to 2? -2 would be someone who is only interested in playing high profile games on their 4k TV on the sofa, 2 would be someone who is on the train every day and would love to spend more time with gaming that way.
3. How important are Nintendo games to you on a -2 to 2 scale? 2 would be someone who played Nintendo games for a long time and can’t imagine a gamer existence without them, -2 would be someone who avoids Nintendo games on every occasion.

Add the scores up and you have your personal conclusion (kind of) :) I hope you liked my impressions of the Switch, I will of course try to answer any questions in the comments. I would also love to know the score you’re coming up for the Switch.

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